“Honestly, this whole thing was blown way out of proportion,” Jackson, 55, opened up about the incident during Part 2 of her Janet Jackson. documentary for Lifetime. “And, of course, it was an accident that should not have happened, but everyone is looking for someone to blame and that’s gotta stop. Justin and I are very good friends and we will always be very good friends.”
The Indiana native noted that she and Timberlake, 40, had spoken “just a few days ago,” and that they both “have moved on and it’s time for everyone else to do the same.”
The “Rhythm Nation” singer has avoided discussing the subject since the immediate aftermath of the halftime show in February 2004. As viewers remember, the former ‘NSync member brought the Poetic Justice star out as a surprise guest during his headlining performance. In the final moment of the show, Timberlake ripped off part of Jackson’s costume, leaving her right breast mostly exposed.
On the night of the Super Bowl, both performers reacted with surprise before the broadcast cut to commercial, but in the following days, there were many conflicting reports about whether the so-called “wardrobe malfunction” — seen by more than 150 million viewers — was really an accident.
At the time, Jackson shouldered most of the blame for the viral moment, which partly inspired the creation of YouTube. “The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals,” she said in a video statement released one day after the performance. “It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologize to anyone offended — including the audience, MTV, CBS and the NFL.”
“[Justin and I] talked once and he said, ‘I don’t know if I should come out and make a statement, and this or that, or say something,'” the Grammy winner told her brother Randy Jackson in 2018, which aired during Saturday’s episode of the documentary. “I said, ‘Listen, I don’t want any drama for you, they’re aiming all this at me. So, I said, ‘If I were you, I wouldn’t say anything.'”
She continued at the time: “A lot of it I didn’t see, but obviously, you couldn’t get away from it because it was everywhere: People wishing ill of you, people coming up to my brothers and saying things, wishing I was put away. … It can take its toll on you emotionally, so I just stayed focused on my work, stayed close to friends, stayed in touch with family and that was enough for me to pull through. When you have everyone whispering about you and the majority of it is not favorable, that can pull you to a different place.”
Though both the “If” singer and Timberlake were scheduled to perform at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards later that month, only one of them did. CBS, which aired both the Grammys and the Super Bowl, later said that both musicians were told they could only appear at the awards show if they apologized on-air. The “Mirrors” crooner agreed, but the network claimed Jackson did not.
While Timberlake’s solo career continued to flourish, Jackson faced some of the lowest points yet in her professional life. Her album Damita Jo, released the month after the Super Bowl, became her first album since 1984 not to hit No. 1 in the United States.
One decade after the performance, former Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell admitted that the controversy over the incident was overblown. “It all turned into being about [Janet],” he told ESPN in January 2014. “In reality, if you slow the thing down, it’s Justin ripping off her breastplate.”
The halftime show became a topic of conversation again last year after the release of “Framing Britney Spears,” a documentary in the FX series The New York Times Presents. After the episode’s release, Timberlake issued a public apology to both Britney Spears and Jackson.
“I am deeply sorry for the times in my life where my actions contributed to the problem, where I spoke out of turn, or did not speak up for what was right,” he wrote via Instagram in February 2021. “I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism.”